The West Midlands is poised to become the European hub of a multi-billion pound industry that could see regional farmers annually supplying thousands of tonnes of halal meat to Muslim communities throughout the world.
Livestock producers in Herefordshire, Staffordshire, Shropshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire could tap into new consumer markets for halal meat in Europe and the Middle East following the approval of the UK’s first “farm to fork” traceability system.
The UK halal market is worth around £2.8 billion. There are two million Muslims in the UK but according to the UK Food Safety Authority, there are 6 million consumers of halal meat nationwide.
The new tagging and online certification system, pioneered in the West Midlands, is devised to meet stringent halal guarantee demands required by Muslim holy law and covers animal welfare, animal husbandry, livestock transport, halal slaughter and food processing.
Similar to the UK food industry’s Red Tractor quality assurance scheme, the halal standard has been introduced after research consultants undertook a two-year-long pilot scheme, the West Midlands Qurbani Project, on behalf of Advantage West Midlands and the West Midlands Minority Ethnic Business Forum.
Michael Oakes, board member for rural affairs at Advantage West Midlands, said: “Farmers have taken some hard knocks in the past few years, such as foot and mouth, BSE, outbreaks of avian bird flu and bluetongue and restrictions on sales abroad. Now, for the red meat industry especially, the Qurbani Project has opened up major opportunities in the global market for halal meat products.
“In the UK, British Muslims currently make up about three percent of the UK population but they consume 20 percent of all red meat sold in the country. Halal meat is increasingly being purchased in supermarket chains and other outlets by non-Muslims. There are two million Muslim in the UK but there are six million consumers of halal meat. That’s a major business opportunity for our livestock farmers.
“Under the Qurbani project devised here in the West Midlands, there will never be any doubt as to where the supplies have come from, or how the animals have been slaughtered. Improved traceability, in every aspect from farm to fork, is the added value that makes our scheme so acceptable.”
Kingswinford-based Janan Meats Ltd, believed to be the first independently-owned abattoir in the halal red meat sector to be assured under the Red Tractor scheme, was a partner in the plan to develop the supply chain.
Halal meat originating from the West Midlands can be offered in many forms depending upon customer needs including canned for export, preserved via aluminium foil, vacuum packed, whole carcasses or cuts.
Shoeeb Riaz, a research consultant with Birmingham-based 3As Consulting Services, which developed the West Midlands Qurbani project, said: “The majority of halal meat consumed in the UK is not traceable meaning that pious Muslims can end up consuming meat from haram sources without their consent or knowledge.
“The halal logo often seen in shop windows is not patented or protected by regulation. Numerous legal cases have ended up at local courts where the halal meat product offered was not fit for human consumption, incorrectly labelled and proper health and regulation measures were not adhered to. However, we now have the opportunity to clean up the halal industry and become competitive by creating new markets both at home and abroad. Halal is no longer purely a religious issue restricted to any one race or religion, rather, it has become a symbol for quality assurance and lifestyle choice.”
The halal supply chain was tested during Eid-ul-Adha in December 2008 whereby animals were raised on British farms with full halal compliance, slaughtered in a halal abattoir and finally distributed to the poor and destitute in Bosnia.
Under the West Midlands Qurbani project, more than 200 animals were procured from a farmer co-operative with donors donating to four Islamic charities (Islamic Help, Islamic Aid, UK Islamic Mission and Muslim Hands). The Qurbani was then transported as food aid to Bosnia. Purple Foodservice Solutions Ltd transported the aid, which was then distributed by officials working with Small Kindness, the charity set up by Yusuf Islam, the former pop singer, Cat Stevens. The beneficiaries included orphans of the Balkans War, poverty-stricken families and poor students.
As part of the innovative traceability system, which has been developed in conjunction with the UK Halal Corporation and ABM, the Red Tractor’s beef and lamb assurance scheme, UK donors will be able to track and follow the food aid as it moves along the supply chain.
Mr Riaz added: “We will be sending feedback to all donors, including details of the farm where the animals were born, halal assurance, a DVD photo-diary of the food aid journey as well as detailed information about the family to benefit as a result of their charity. It is my sincere belief that though the Muslim donor donates in good faith we have a responsibility to ensure that the donor has the extra assurance that their money has been well spent and is accountable. Technology is moving forward rapidly and we are committed to ensuring that tracking technology is used to further enhance our commitment to our donors.
“We plan to expand the scheme to include Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Pakistan, India and Africa, as well as working with the poor and needy in the United Kingdom.”
Hamid Salim, chairman of the Business Enterprise Group of the West Midlands Minority Ethnic Business Forum, said: “The Qurbani model has shown the way to create increased revenue for the farming industry and stimulate employment opportunities within the food processing sector. Talks are now being held with supply chain partners, Islamic charities and to set up commercial agreements to ensure a competitive, profitable and sustainable long-term business opportunity.
“However, it is now up to the private sector to drive the scheme forward and prove its viability as a successful commercial venture.”
The project has been applauded by the National Farmers Union.
Adam Quinney, West Midlands’ Regional Board chairman of the NFU, who farms on the Warwickshire-Worcestershire border at Sambourne, near Redditch, said: “Beef and sheep producers in the Midlands welcome the opportunity to take advantage of the new markets now being opened up as a result of the Qurbani project.
“Being able to produce animals for halal meat, with confidence that high welfare standards will operate throughout the supply chain, will be welcomed by livestock farmers.”
Advantage West Midlands is the Regional Development Agency (RDA) for the West Midlands.
It is one of nine RDAs in England established to transform the English regions through sustainable economic development.
Advantage West Midlands has an annual budget of more than £300 million to invest in the economic development of the West Midlands. It drives economic development by identifying where the greatest impact can be made either by targeting need or investing in success.